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Freedom to Tinker



Research and expert commentary on digital technologies in public life



Last Build Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2017 19:36:01 +0000

 



How to Analyze An Encryption Access Proposal

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 19:36:01 +0000

It looks like the idea of requiring law enforcement access to encrypted data is back in the news, with the UK government apparently pushing for access in the wake of the recent London attack. With that in mind, let’s talk about how one can go about analyzing a proposed access mandate. The first thing to […]



How to buy physical goods using Bitcoin with improved security and privacy

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 15:05:07 +0000

Bitcoin has found success as a decentralized digital currency, but it is only one step toward decentralized digital commerce. Indeed, creating decentralized marketplaces and mechanisms is a nascent and active area of research. In a new paper, we present escrow protocols for cryptocurrencies that bring us closer to decentralized commerce. In any online sale of […]



Pragmatic advice for buying “Internet of Things” devices

Wed, 08 Mar 2017 18:37:41 +0000

We’re hearing an increasing amount about security flaws in “Internet of Things” devices, such as a “messaging” teddy bear with poor security or perhaps Samsung televisions being hackable to become snooping devices. How are you supposed to make purchasing decisions for all of these devices when you have no idea how they work or if […]



How the Politics of Encryption Affects Government Adoption

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 13:40:46 +0000

I wrote yesterday about reports that people in the White House are using encrypted communication apps more often, and why that might be. Today I want to follow up by talking about how the politics of encryption might affect government agencies’ choices about how to secure their information.  I’ll do this by telling the stories of […]



On Encryption Apps in the White House

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 14:19:35 +0000

Politico ran a long story today pointing to an increase in the use of encrypted communication apps by people in DC, government, and the White House specifically. Poisonous political divisions have spawned an encryption arms race across the Trump administration, as both the president’s advisers and career civil servants scramble to cover their digital tracks in […]



RIP, SHA-1

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 14:29:47 +0000

Today’s cryptography news is that researchers have discovered a collision in the SHA-1 cryptographic hash function. Though long-expected, this is a notable milestone in the evolution of crypto standards. Kudos to Marc Stevens, Elie Bursztein, Pierre Karpma, Ange Albertine, and Yarik Markov of CWI Amsterdam and Google Research for their result. SHA-1 was standardized by […]



Smart Contracts: Neither Smart nor Contracts?

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 19:15:28 +0000

Karen Levy has an interesting new article critiquing blockchain-based “smart contracts.”  The first part of her title, “Book-Smart, not Street-Smart,” sums up her point. Here’s a snippet: Though smart contracts do have some features that might serve the goals of social justice and fairness, I suggest that they are based on a thin conception of […]



Mitigating the Increasing Risks of an Insecure Internet of Things

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 19:30:52 +0000

The emergence and proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices on industrial, enterprise, and home networks brings with it unprecedented risk. The potential magnitude of this risk was made concrete in October 2016, when insecure Internet-connected cameras launched a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on Dyn, a provider of DNS service for many large […]



Regulation and Anti-Regulation

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 15:12:37 +0000

[Hi, Freedom to Tinker readers. I’m back at Princeton, having completed my tour of duty as Deputy U.S. CTO, so I can resume writing here. I’ll start with some posts on specific topics, like the one below. As time goes on, I’ll have a lot more to say about what I learned.  –Ed Felten] Politicians often […]



Engineering around social media border searches

Fri, 10 Feb 2017 16:03:38 +0000

The latest news is that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is considering a requirement, while passing through a border checkpoint, to inspect a prospective visitor’s “online presence”. That means immigration officials would require users to divulge their passwords to Facebook and other such services, which the agent might then inspect, right there, at the […]